The people of Hawaii know our political system is out of balance and needs to be fixed. Wealthy special interests often set the political agenda with big money campaign spending and unlimited lobbying.

This leads to the needs of everyday people often being ignored or not prioritized. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work.

There are solutions to unrig our system like reducing barriers to voting with reforms like automatic voter registration and vote by mail, and ending gerrymandering. This also includes amending the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United and similar cases that wrongly equated free speech to being able to spend unlimited money in politics.

However, a proposal at the state Legislature offers a dangerous and wrong path to get this amendment.

Supreme Court Building Washington DC clouds. 6 june 2016.
The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington. The authors say there are better ways to overturn the Citizens United ruling than with a constitutional convention. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, amendments can be added to the Constitution in two different ways. The way we have always amended the Constitution is having Congress pass the amendment and then sending it to the states for ratification. The second, lesser-known but more dangerous way, is to have two-thirds of the states, or 34 states, call an Article V convention to propose amendments.

An Article V convention is a bad idea in our politically polarized and corrupted time, especially when it comes to reforming our campaign finance laws. That’s because Article V of the Constitution provides no details on how a convention would work. Many legal scholars believe it could quickly become a free-for-all and create a constitutional crisis.

Protections Could Be At Risk

Unfortunately, some Hawaii legislators are pushing a dangerous plan to call for an Article V convention with misguided talking points and false facts about the convention process. The resolution, which has already passed the Senate, tries to limit a convention to deal with just money in politics reform, but there are no real constitutional guidelines that ensure that a convention can be limited to one subject.

This means that anything could be proposed and every constitutional protection that Americans enjoy could be at risk. Everything from the right to vote to freedom of speech could be on the chopping block. And sadly, in the current political environment the ratification of three-fourths of the states required by Article V is not the insurance that proponents of an Article V convention represent it to be.

There are also unresolved questions about how delegates are chosen, how the American people would be represented in a convention, and what, if any, ethics rules would be applied to convention delegates.

Even worse, adding Hawaii to the list of states calling for a convention won’t do much to help solve the problem with big money in politics. In fact, it will probably embolden far-right wealthy special interests like the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council, a secretive corporate lobbying group. The Kochs and ALEC are backing the campaign to call a convention to push for conservative amendments, like a balanced budget amendment, to the Constitution.

A federal constitutional convention is a dangerous idea at this time.

If Hawaii was to pass their convention application on money in politics, it will empower the conservative special interest groups by legitimizing the idea that a convention is a good idea in today’s chaotic political environment.

Given the composition of the interest groups behind calling a convention, it’s hard to imagine that a convention called in the near future would do anything proactive on campaign finance reform. In fact, Republican legislators and conservative special interests would likely dominate a convention and set the agenda. It would be more likely that they would put the idea that money is speech in the Constitution, rather than challenge it with a constitutional amendment.

In the end, a federal constitutional convention is a dangerous idea at this time, and one that Hawaii should actively avoid, even if the goal of the convention — overturning Citizens United and getting big money out of politics — is a good idea.

Instead, our legislators should continue to take action on solutions that have a real impact on improving our democracy, like strengthening our public financing of elections program, disclosure laws, and voting laws.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Not a subscription

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service. That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help keep our journalism free for all readers. And if you’re able, consider a sustaining monthly gift to support our work all year-round.

 

 

About the Authors